Critic Harry Levin wrote this in 1957: “The novelist must begin by playing the sedulous ape, assimilating the craft of his predecessors; but he does not master his own form until he has somehow exposed and surpassed them.” To master and surpass: this is the purpose, the pursuit of every novelist. In his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T.S. Eliot believed the same: “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance … is the appreciation of his relationship to the dead poets and artists.” So if you’re preparing to author the next great social novel and you haven’t studied Stendhal, James, and Austen’s half-dozen, you might have better luck with badminton.


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